It has been a theme for many years that, aside from the occasional special teams contributions, rookies on the Pittsburgh Steelers, including even first-round draft picks, rarely contribute during their first season. That has been especially true over the years on defense, though less so on offense.
That pattern changed somewhat in 2013 due to a variety of circumstances, both foreseen and unforeseen, as many rookies—even undrafted players—got a good chunk of playing time on both sides of the ball. Therefore, there’s more to go on than usual when speaking about how their rookie seasons went.
Player: Jarvis Jones
Draft Status: 1st round (17th overall)
When the Steelers released James Harrison and drafted Jarvis Jones, there were immediate ideas of a player breaking the mold and becoming an instant starter on defense. That seemingly unlikely notion was only fostered by practice reports of frequent batted passes and forced fumbles.
Some of that even showed up during the preseason, although some of the praise was excessive—for example, the accolades received for having been the man nearest the ball on the ground when a running back fumbled the ball all by himself with nobody else around.
Jones, in fact, likely would have been the opening day starter had he not gotten injured in the final preseason game after the runback on an interception, which was later overturned.
Instead, Jason Worilds started at right outside linebacker, but Jones still played nearly half the game. He was installed in the starting lineup by the second game, however, and he had two solid games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Chicago Bears.
Success as a pass rusher was hard to come by, but he generally played the run well, especially so against the Bears. He frequently crossed the face of the blocking tight end in order to penetrate into the backfield, and he ended up making several stops in the running game in the process.
The next two games didn’t go so well, and he ended up suffering a concussion against the New York Jets. He did generate some pressure late in the Jets game, and one hurry helped influence a poor pass near the goal line that was intercepted.
When Jones returned from his concussion, missing one game, he found that he’d lost his starting job to Worilds, as Jones had been struggling with his assignments, but after LaMarr Woodley injured his calf the first time, he was back starting.
The Steelers had him rushing the passer more, but it wasn’t accomplishing much, and he had very poor success in a pair of divisional games late in the season. While it never fully came around, however, he did begin to generate some pressure on a more consistent basis in his last few games.
There’s no doubt that Jones made some strides as a rookie from the beginning of the season to the end. He finished the year with perhaps his best game against the Cleveland Browns, though his highlight of the year must have been a batted pass on a two-point conversion attempt.
Jones knows that he has to get stronger for next season—he said so himself. But it will be interesting to see if he starts the year taking the field with the other starters. Woodley is still under contract and nearly prohibitively expensive to part with. Meanwhile, Worilds came on strong in the second half of the season and team president Art Rooney II mentioned him by name as a free agent they would like to keep.